The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This astonishing interview dramatically undercuts Trump’s ‘voter fraud’ investigation

President-elect Donald Trump greets Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Nov. 20 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Kris Kobach is Kansas’s secretary of state and the vice chairman of President Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. On Wednesday, Kobach sat next to Vice President Pence as Pence chaired the inaugural meeting of that commission.

Pence began the meeting with a brief statement about the group’s aims, including to “identify the laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies and practices that will enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.”

“This commission — let me be clear — this commission has no preconceived notions or preordained results,” the vice president said. “We’re fact-finders. And in the days ahead, we will gather the relevant facts and data, and at the conclusion of our work, we will present the president with a report of our findings.”

And then Kobach, the commission’s No. 2, went on MSNBC and said this:

MSNBC HOST KATY TUR: [Do you think that Hillary] Clinton won the popular vote by 3 to 5 million votes because of voter fraud?
KOBACH: We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.

This is a stunning thing for anyone to say, much less the official in charge of elections in one of the 50 states and certainly much less a guy who’s in charge of “enhancing the American people’s confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.”

It’s simply not debatable. There is no evidence at all that hundreds of votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election, much less thousands, much less millions. No. Evidence. At. All.

Kobach will certainly try to defend this utterly ludicrous claim, as he has in the past, by pointing to vague and/or debunked analyses, including his own, which might suggest that it is possible some population of votes were cast illegally. But there have been any number of investigations aimed at rooting out such votes, and in no case were thousands of illegal votes confirmed. Kobach himself has hunted for years for rampant voter fraud, and even he has come up mostly empty-handed.

He explained on Fox News in February that he’d found 115 cases of noncitizens on the voter rolls or trying to register to vote in Kansas and extrapolated that out to assume that there were probably 18,000 such cases across the state and then extrapolated that to assume that in larger states, the numbers could be in the hundreds of thousands. Because he found 115 cases, not all of which included people actually registering. Other arguments by Kobach and President Trump’s supporters do the same thing, using some questionable statistical point to extrapolate to the assumption that millions of illegal votes were cast.

Such analyses ignore that what’s being considered is a crime for which detection mechanisms are in place. Let’s say that people are caught casting illegal ballots 0.1 percent of the time the crime occurs. If Donald Trump won the popular vote because Clinton’s 2.8 million-vote lead was based on fraudulent ballots, that would mean we’d expect to see 2,800 arrests for fraud. I looked after the election and found four reported cases of fraud. That’s a .00001 percent rate of detection.

Oh, and by the way? Trump’s legal team filed an affidavit in Michigan after the election saying that the election wasn’t tainted by fraud.

But the Kobach MSNBC interview gets only more stunning, as Tur presses him on his assertion.

TUR: Is that why this commission exists, because the president believes that he would have won the popular vote?
KOBACH: No. I’m glad you asked that question, because actually that is not the reason that the commission exists. It is not to justify, to validate or invalidate what the president said in December or January about the 2016 election. The commission is to look at the facts as they are and go where the facts lead us on voter fraud and the rest of the integrity of our elections.

You cannot both seriously believe that the results of a national election settled by a 2.8-million-vote margin are questionable and that you are part of a commission that is solely based on evaluating the facts in an objective matter. To believe sincerely that the electoral system is that rife with fraud and abuse is to come to it with a very specific existing lens that will color every fact — however valid — that’s placed in front of you.

Of course the commission is meant to address the president’s views on electoral fraud; he’s the one that created the commission! If he didn’t think there was fraud, he wouldn’t have created it!

When the commission sent out its request for data from states, many responded skeptically, pointing out that “voter fraud” investigations like this one are often used as a pretext for new voting restrictions that disproportionately affect Democratic voters. A “voter ID” law in Kansas, for example, kept about 34,000 Kansans from voting in the 2012 election, according to an academic study — mostly younger and black voters. There’s no one who claims that 34,000 people voted illegally in the state.

In case there was any lingering doubt, this interview makes clear that Kobach and the commission that he helps lead have little interest in seriously figuring out how to improve the voting process in the United States. Kobach leads with “fraud was rampant” and now wants to prove that, under the guise of objective analysis.

There’s no indication that he’ll be able to, but rest assured that he will absolutely try his best.